The Florida Atlantic University baseball team’s 2017 campaign gets underway this Friday night, continuing through Sunday, when they host familiar northeastern foe Monmouth in a three-game set at FAU Baseball Stadium.
The Owls and Hawks have a long and storied history of 38 total games, dating all the way back to 1986. FAU has won 33 times, including 23 of the last 24 meetings. Since Head Coach John McCormack took over in 2009, they hold a 9-1 advantage, with the lone Monmouth win coming on Feb. 21, 2014, by the score of 5-1.
Friday night’s 6:30 first pitch, which will come from Owls’ converted reliever Alex House, will allow the home team to break from preseason and face some outside competition.
“People ask you all the time, `are you going to be good?’ before the season begins,” said McCormack. “It’s really difficult to determine that because every day, you’re playing someone in a same-colored uniform. It changes when there’s someone in the visiting dugout wearing a different uniform, and you never know how your players are going to respond until they’re in that situation.”
House, a 6-3 junior righthander, was 2-1 with a 3.13 ERA last season in 23 appearances, all in relief. Slated to follow him in the rotation for the 4 p.m. Saturday tilt will be junior college transfer Jake Miednik, making his FAU debut. He was named NJCAA Division I Pitcher of the Year by Spalding after going 13-1 for Walters State Community College. The 5-10 lefthander had a 3.62 ERA with 127 strikeouts in 79.2 innings pitched.
In the Sunday finale, beginning at noon, another arm out of the bullpen (and like Miednik, another southpaw) will toe the rubber in 5-11 sophomore Nick Swan. A Conference USA All-Freshman honoree last year, he had two starts among his 19 games pitched, going 3-0 with a 3.09 ERA. In each of his starts, both Owl wins, he gave up just one earned run in four innings pitched, and allowed a total of only seven hits.
That trio will face a Hawks team out of West Long Branch, New Jersey, and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, that went 30-27 a year ago. They are an experienced bunch, led by four preseason All-Conference performers and 11 seniors in total.
“The things I know about Monmouth, it’s an older group that’s been together for a couple of years now, they have four really good left-handed hitters that are seniors and they have the returning Pitcher of the Year in their conference,” said McCormack. “They’re not going to be intimidated, and they’re going to play hard, their coach (Dean Ehehalt) demands that of them. They’ve only been on the field a short amount of time with the snow and bad weather up there, so we’ll see.”
The four honorees, all seniors, are infielders Shaine Hughes and Grant Lamberton, outfielder Dan Shea, and the aforementioned 2016 MAAC Pitcher of the Year, Ricky Dennis. As a squad, Monmouth was voted third in the preseason conference poll, and received two first-place votes.